Wichita, KS (SportsNetwork.com) - As one of the last undefeated teams in the nation, the fifth-ranked Wichita State Shockers are set to entertain the visiting Bradley Braves in Missouri Valley Conference action at Koch Arena on Tuesday night.
Along with Arizona, Syracuse and Wisconsin, the top three teams in Division I, the Shockers have yet to come out on the losing side of a decision in 2013-14. However, Wichita State was put to the test by Missouri State this past Saturday night as the Bears took their meeting to overtime before the Shockers claimed the 72-69 triumph.
Needless to say, with an unblemished record overall on the campaign, Wichita State is also at the top of the Missouri Valley Conference standings at 4-0, but the team has to share the honor with Indiana State for the time being.
While WSU enjoys the spoils of a successful first half of the season, the Braves find themselves near the bottom of the MVC standings with just one win in four chances. Bradley did start off the campaign with four straight victories, but since then the team has posted a mark of only 2-11. On Saturday, the team was taken out by the aforementioned Sycamores in an 62-59 final on the road, which means the Braves are now 0-7 away from home overall.
Bradley actually leads the all-time series with the Shockers by a count of 71-62, although Wichita State has won seven in a row. The Braves are set to close out their regular season home schedule against WSU on Feb. 25.
Even after shooting only 34.9 percent from the field the Braves had a chance to upset one of the better teams in the MVC on Saturday, but the visitors came up just short in the three-point final versus Indiana State. Walt Lemon scored a game-high 22 points, grabbed six rebounds, handed out six assists and made four steals, but he ended up shooting only 8-of-22 from the field and was charged with five of the team's nine turnovers. Omari Grier pitched in with 12 points and Tyshon Pickett came up a point shy of a double-double as he grabbed 12 boards.
The only player to start every game for Bradley, Lemon has used his opportunities to generate a team-best 17.1 ppg and distribute 66 assists, the latter number being three times more than any of his teammates. Pickett (12.2 ppg) is the top rebounder for the group with 7.6 rpg, which should be more than enough reason for him to pass up any shot attempts he may have behind the 3-point line where he is only 2-of-16. Perimeter accuracy has eluded the Braves through 17 games, the squad knocking down only 29.1 percent.
Trailing by 19 points at the 11:48 mark of the second half, by all accounts the Shockers should have suffered their first loss of the season on Saturday, but they responded with a frenetic comeback bid that eventually paid off. Cleanthony Early posted a double-double with 22 points and 14 rebounds, although he did shoot just 4-of-14 from the floor, including 1-of-7 behind the 3-point line. Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker contributed 16 and 15 points, respectively.
Clearly the Shockers are vulnerable, as Missouri State showed, but what is difficult to quantify is the team's resilience. Sure, Early leads the program with 16.6 ppg and is also tops with 6.9 rpg, but those are qualities that can be recorded, while effort is much more subjective. Baker adds 13.1 ppg and VanVleet 12.2 ppg for a group scoring 76.1 ppg, but giving up a mere 61.4 ppg. In addition to beating opponents on the glass by almost eight rebounds per contest, the Shockers have also outscored teams by 123 points at the free- throw line.